Enduring a health care ordeal

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By Rick Howell

    When this column didn’t appear a few weeks ago many people were mystified and some actually made inquiries. Wow….It appears I might have a few fans in my hometown.

    I was in the hospital recovering from surgery for something called “smoldering appendicitis.” I’d had what was merely a vague soreness in my lower abdomen, something that was never really painful in the classic sense. After several days it was clear that, whatever it was, it didn’t seem to want to go away. So I made a routine appointment with my doctor.

    The CT scan he ordered showed a swollen appendix and I was sent to Lynchburg General’s ER to meet the surgeon. From the start, Dr. John Guglielmetti, Jr., told me that something looked weird on the CT scan, and that my blood work didn’t appear consistent with someone who merely has appendicitis.

    Dr. “G.,” as I called him, was on target. An attempt at laparoscopic surgery merely revealed the scope of the problem. The appendix was grossly swollen, with two lymph nodes and a piece of my colon attached to it. A traditional incision had to be made, 20 staples worth of it, as it turned out.

    You’ve heard the old saying, “Nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging.” Well, the “C” word has that same attention-getting power, doesn’t it? It had been made known to me that cancer of the appendix was another possibility I faced.

    In fact, upon awaking, “there was no cancer” was one of the first things I heard from somebody. Later tests confirmed that. Some unexpected bleeding about 36 hours later put me in intensive care for a few days. But an X-ray and another CT scan showed no need for further surgery.

    My blood count slowly but surely improved, and I was moved to a regular room and released two days later.

    There are many people to thank. My mother, and my sister and brother-in-law were almost constantly on hand to lend support. My son was deeply concerned, but due to worries about exposing him to flu viruses, the hospital only let him visit me once.

    I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Guglielmetti. A fast talker, Dr. “G” bore a sharp resemblance to a young version of the great film director Francis Ford Coppola. But thankfully he wasn’t on hand to direct “Apocalypse Now.” Quite the contrary.

    At both Virginia Baptist (where the operation was performed) and at Lynchburg General, the nurses and nurses aides demonstrated exemplary care and character. I simply couldn’t have been in better hands.

    Some “men of the cloth” deserve thanks, too. Pastor David Bayse, my father’s minister at Huddleston’s Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church, was a frequent visitor, as he always has been for my dad at Oakwood Manor.

    The Rev. Gary Vernon, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, and who pastors a Lynchburg Church of God of Prophecy, also visited. These gentlemen live their faith through actions and not just words. I was grateful for their prayers and their attention.

    Lynchburg’s Holy Cross Catholic Church sent a lay minister to my room the day before I left so that I might receive communion. My former parish hadn’t forgotten me.

    All in all, it was both an ordeal to remember and one from which to try and move on as quickly as possible….I’m still working on that.

    But I’m one of the lucky ones, because I went through this knowing that I have health insurance. Can you imagine what I’d be facing now if I were one of the 47 million Americans who can’t afford it?

    I hope our president will soon be signing a comprehensive health care reform bill, so that all Americans can endure something like this without facing bankruptcy when it’s over.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.